Ray Carter | August 20, 2020
Stitt education program proving popular across Oklahoma
Nearly one in three Oklahoma school districts has already applied for a program launched by Gov. Kevin Stitt that will provide advanced courses online.
“Up to this point, 160 school districts have applied to utilize these materials, these courses,” said Ryan Walters, CEO of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma.
Oklahoma has more than 500 school districts.
Using federal bailout funds provided for COVID-19 response, Stitt announced in July the launch of the Learn Anywhere Oklahoma program, which will use $12 million to provide greater access to high-quality digital content, including Advanced Placement courses, across grades K-12. Additionally, the funds allow schools to provide access to online content with a teacher of record virtually.
Walters discussed the response to the governor’s initiative during a legislative study conducted by the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education.
Walters noted the rapid shift to online learning last spring was very challenging for many school districts, and many challenges remain in the new school year.
“Online quality instruction can be really difficult to put together and to make sure you’re doing it the right way,” Walters said.
He said the Learn Anywhere Oklahoma program is helping eliminate shortcomings, particularly in rural communities. In many rural districts, he noted schools struggle to attract educators certified to teach higher-level academic courses, and those same districts often have only a literal handful of students choosing those options, which makes it financially difficult for a district to dedicate a teacher to those courses.
Without the Learn Anywhere Oklahoma program, rural students who want to take courses not offered in their district have to either enroll in a full-time virtual school or go elsewhere, Walters said.
“Think about all the different courses that a student might want, especially in our rural areas, where they might have a difficult time finding these teachers,” Walters said.
He noted state law allows students to take up to five virtual classes and remain enrolled in a local school district.
“This is a great way to do the best of both worlds,” Walters said.
A teacher for 10 years who has taught classes online for the past year, Walters will teach an Advanced Placement course on U.S. History that will be among those offered through the Learn Anywhere Oklahoma program.
Along with the Learn Anywhere Oklahoma program, Stitt has launched two other major education initiatives using federal COVID-19 funds.
Stitt’s Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet program uses $8 million to provide low-income families with grants to purchase curriculum content, tutoring services, and technology. The program will provide $1,500 grants to more than 5,000 families.
The governor’s “Stay in School” initiative uses $10 million to help low-income families attend private schools. More than 1,500 Oklahoma families are expected to access up to $6,500 per student.
State officials have not yet released data on the number of families that have applied for those two programs, but officials have quietly indicated demand has been very high.
Schools have 45 days to use their credits for the Learn Anywhere Oklahoma program. If a district does not use its credits in that time, the balance reverts to the program and may be made available to other districts.
While the Learn Anywhere program will fill immediate needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Walters said it can generate long-term improvement in student access to course content across Oklahoma.
“Moving forward if we utilize these vendors and we utilize all these virtual options, and we have this catalogue here—Learn Anywhere OK—this really gives districts this huge jump-start in what virtual learning can look like,” Walters said.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.